We’re running a weekly recap of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+. There are spoilers, duh! You’ve been warned.
By my count, this show is currently juggling four villains. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to lose track of who is who and what’s in it for them as they join the periphery of Sam and Buck’s six-season arc. Let’s count them down.
#4 John Walker
Good, but getting bad.
As the Falcon, Sam Wilson fought by Steve Rogers’s side in two separate Captain America films. Then, in the span between Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, Sam, along with Steve and Natasha, lived as a fugitive for the crime of violating the Sokovia Accords. It was a hard life. My point is, Sam proved his mettle so that by the time Steve handed over the shield to him, we all knew what Steve knew: Sam earned it. Which meant the shield was less a gift than the wages due a good and faithful hero. And so while we may disagree with Sam’s decision to give up Captain America’s mantle, it was Sam’s decision to make.
Which is why it hits us hard that the United States government decided to bestow it to someone else. Unlike Sam, they never earned it. To them, the shield was a gift in every sense of the word—a symbol of the best America has to offer, but a symbol America itself hadn’t yet earned. And if they didn’t earn it, how could they presume to choose its successor? It feels wrong. Sam intuits this. Bucky does too.
You know who doesn’t intuit this? John Walker.
That’s the thing about this show. Unlike WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s mysteries are probably the least interesting thing about it. John was chosen by the government to be the “new” Captain America. And he seems like a good guy. Maybe even a great guy. He’s lived a life of military service and honor. At first blush, he seems like a natural successor for the Captain America title. The problem is, the further we go into this season, John is quickly shedding his humility. He stopped questioning why he was chosen to carry the shield. Instead, in his pride, he questions why people refuse to give him the respect and deference he feels he’s due. John Walker’s “Why me?” has dissolved to a self-confident “Yes, me.”
That makes him dangerous.
#3 Karli Morgenthau
The trajectory of this show has made Karli an increasingly sympathetic character. This week we learned more about the Global Repatriation Council, the multinational organization built in the Blip’s aftermath to help reintegrate half the world’s population back into society, into the homes, jobs, and lives they had previously lost. But at some point along the way, Karli got radicalized. She saw the squalid conditions that refugees under the GRC lived in. She saw the abuse and misappropriation of resources away from the vulnerable and centralized into the hands of a select few. And she decided to do something about it.
She, along with the Flag Smashers, stole super soldier serum and used their newfound powers to fight back against the GRC. In another life, someone like Karli would have become a Moses of some kind, a speaker of truth to power and wielding the power of her super strength for the liberation of the powerless.
But instead, Karli has resorted to terror and destruction. And as much as people talk of “burning down” systems of oppression, Karli takes the mission quite literally. Worse still, she is disturbingly unbothered when innocent people are still inside the burning building.
#2 Helmut Zemo
Remember Zemo? For a refresher, he’s the evil genius who set the events of Captain America: Civil War into motion. After his family was killed during the decimation of Sokovia in Avengers: Ultron, Zemo decided superheroes were a net bad for the world. So he bombed the United Nations, killing Wakanda’s King T’Chaka and framing Bucky Barnes for the act. So it came to pass that when Steve Rogers tried to protect his old friend, he found himself in the crosshairs of not only the world’s governments, but also Tony Stark and half the Avengers too.
Don’t forget what happened next. It was a divided Avengers that faced Thanos and lost in Avengers: Infinity War, all because of Zemo.
So Zemo is bad, yes? No duh. But unfortunately for Bucky and Sam, he’s also useful, in much the same way as Hannibal Lector was useful to Clarice. So this week, Bucky broke Zemo out of jail to recruit his help in tracking down the Flag Smashers and the Power Broker. And for the time being, Zemo is willing to help, if it means ridding the world of more super soldiers and getting a semblance of freedom back.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?
Wrong. There’s no version of this story where recruiting Zemo doesn’t go badly for Sam and Bucky, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, as a homage to breaking up the Avengers years earlier, Zemo will ultimately be responsible for breaking up the two named protagonists of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
#1 The Power Broker
Here’s what we know about the Power Broker so far. He (or she!) lives in Madripoor, a fictional city in the Marvel Universe that looks like it’s ripped straight from the pages of Cyperpunk 2077. The Power Broker is the one chasing the Flag Smashers for stealing his (or her!) super soldier serum. And as I mentioned last week, we can safely assume the person who’s after Karli Morgenthau and her goons is probably much, much worse. I stand by that.
We also know the Power Broker is directly responsible for developing the new super soldier serum by exploiting Isaiah Bradley’s super soldier blood, Isaiah being the world’s first Black super soldier, if you recall.
So the Power Broker isn’t just bad. He’s a racist too.
But lastly, it seems that with the Power Broker, we finally know the big bad for this show, the MacGuffin that will unite our heroes in the common mission of fighting for the greater good.
I read things, and I see people online trying to guess the Power Broker’s identity. Maybe it’s Zemo. A few people are even saying it’s Sharon, go figure!
Wanna know what I think? I have no idea!
And honestly, I don’t think I care.
That’s the thing about this show. Unlike WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s mysteries are probably the least interesting thing about it.
Rather, what keeps me coming back are the characters themselves. I want to see what happens when a Black superhero confronts the complicated legacy of his homeland. Or what happens when a pardoned murderer exorcises his demons and learns how to live free from the pain of his past.
We’re officially halfway through this six-episode series. What beautiful alchemy will result when you unite these two men in a common brotherhood?